20 February 2003 Edition
Let the people decide
Over 100,000 people marched through the streets of Dublin last weekend with a simple message for the Dublin government. They don't want a US-led war on Iraq. They don't want a military build up in the Gulf. Some are appalled at how the exercising of the political will of the United States can mean expending so much resources and money while committing so many human lives to this conflict, while at the same time cannot find the will to tackle world hunger, disease or even the simple act of debt cancellation.
In Ireland, the policy of the Fianna Fáil-led coalition has changed from day to day. Last week, the government could not answer the question of whether or not they would back US unilateral attacks on Iraq without a UN mandate. On Monday, they rowed in with other EU member states calling for more time for UN inspections in Iraq. Yesterday, Bertie Ahern changed tack again, calling for a second UN Security Council motion on weapons inspections. It shows that feet on the streets are having a positive effect.
Against this ever-changing backdrop, both in Ireland and internationally, Sinn Féin introduced its first bill into Leinster House. The Bill calls for a referendum on neutrality and would let 26-County voters decide policy on this issue for the first time.
The introduction of the Bill exposed the hypocrisy of establishment political parties in the 26 Counties who voted it down and showed clearly that Sinn Féin stands alone as a campaigning party, on the streets, in council chambers, in the Northern Assembly and this week in Leinster House.
Ahern's wake-up call
100,000 throng Dublin city centre
Saturday's anti-war march in Dublin was the biggest protest the city has seen since the 1970s. Across the world, in over 600 cities and towns, turnouts exceeded everyone's wildest dreams, but nowhere could match Dublin for the sheer proportion of the population that turned out.
During the week, organisers had guessed on numbers ranging from 20,000 to 30,000. On Saturday morning it was clear that there was actually going to be a massive underestimate, as more and more people poured towards Parnell Square.
At 1:30pm, hundreds of Sinn Féin members from Dublin and around the country marched en bloc to the square, carrying distinctive yellow banners calling for 'No War On Iraq', as well as party and cumann banners.
By 2:45pm, those at the front of the march had reached St Stephen's Green Park while thousands still stood waiting to set off at Parnell Square. The march was too large for just one side of O'Connell Street, the city's main thoroughfare, and both sides had to be opened to cope with the numbers.
The most outstanding feature of the parade was its colour and diversity. Political groups were represented, with Sinn Féin, the Green Party and the Socialist Party having the largest contingents, but thousands of people who'd normally only consider attending a Paddy's Day parade turned up as well and protested.
Banners ranged from the mild 'Drop Bush, Not Bombs' and 'No War For Oil', to the more severe 'Bertie, Blair, Bush, B**lix' and the humorous 'Down with this sort of thing'.
Red peace balloons floated over the crowd, and flags from all over the world added colour to the march. The atmosphere was jovial and relaxed as seasoned militants marched alongside people wheeling buggies and walking dogs. This camaraderie was illustrated in unexpected form when, while marching down Grafton street, marchers jumped to the defence of a woman who was being mugged. They successfully got her bag back from the opportunist thief, to loud cheers from onlookers.
The crowd was entertained at various stages en route by singers such as Christy Moore, Mary Coughlan, Kíla, Shane McGowan and Hazel O'Connor and there were many speakers, including Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh. All five Sinn Féin TDs and West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty attended.
The march, and the atmosphere it created in the city, showed the true extent of anti-war sentiment in the 26 Counties. The question is, now that the people have spoken, will the government listen?
Massive Belfast rally
They came from all over the Six Counties on Saturday to tell Tony Blair and George Bush that their proposed war against Iraq just doesn't have popular support.
The estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people who gathered at Belfast City Hall on Saturday drew from all across northern society; the crowd was made up of young and old, working class and middle class. Among the many Sinn Féin members in attendance was party president Gerry Adams.
There were socialists and communists, republicans and nationalists. I presume there were unionists (with a small u) in the crowd as well. However, these would have been going against the public pronouncements of the unionist leadership, which has sided with Blair and Bush's war aims.
The main speaker at Saturday's rally was Derry's Eamon McCann. He warned that "the last time we listened to a bush we spent 40 years wandering in the desert".
Several hundred people also attended a rally in Newry, County Down.
Massive London demo
BY FERN LANE
Organisers of the anti-war movement in Britain estimate that up to 2 million people converged on central London on Saturday to voice their opposition to military action against Iraq. It took something like five hours for those at the end of the march to arrive at Hyde Park, where well over a million packed in to hear impassioned speeches from, amongst others, Tony Benn, American civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson, and the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. It is believed to have been the largest political demonstration ever seen in Britain.
The protest, almost uniquely, drew support from across the social, religious and political spectrum; Christians of every stripe marched together with Jewish and Muslim groups - many of whom greeted each other warmly. The placards ranged from the witty to the surreal to the starkly literal. A group calling itself Stoners for Peace ("Say Yes 2 Drugs, Say No 2 War") walked side-by-side with the Quakers ("Read your Bible!"), off-duty firefighters, trade unionists and a group from Eton. "This many Iraqis will die" read one striking banner, "Make Tea Not War" proclaimed another. Many were aimed at Bush and Blair personally (or BLUSH! as several placards had it, together with a conflated image of the two men), from the polite - "Blair is really annoying - to the more, er, Anglo-Saxon "Blair is a c***" as wielded by a man perched impassively on top of one the lions in Trafalgar Square. Others proclaimed "the madness of George II" and advised him to "have a break, have a pretzel".
There was also a huge international presence and massive - and voluble - support for the Palestinian people.
Thousands of anti-war protesters also took to the streets of Glasgow, marching through the city centre towards the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, where the Labour Party's spring conference was being held and Blair was justifying his pro-war stance, even in the face of the throngs of marchers outside and in London. "I ask the marchers to understand this: I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honour. But sometimes it is the price of leadership and the cost of conviction," he claimed.
Around 61,000 people are estimated to have taken part in the largest ever peace demonstration staged north of the border.